31 July 2009

Book Review: A Year of Wine

One thing I truly love is seeing fellow wine bloggers in print. A few months ago I was on a US Airways flight and while flipping through the in-flight magazine, I noticed an article by Tyler Colman. Why was that name familiar? At the end it became clear--Dr. Vino! Recently I picked up his book: A Year of Wine: Perfect Pairings, Great Buys, and What to Sip for Each Season. I should note here that Colman is a real PhD, and teaches wine classes at NYU. He's a bona fide doctor, not just a less-threatening 007 villain. "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to have purple teeth! Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!" On top of that, he's been writing online since 2002 and has recently done some great investigative journalism that has caused a bit of a stir along the borders where the blogging and traditional media worlds meet.

The book is aimed at the novice-to-intermediate wine lover, but there's something to be enjoyed by people of all experience levels. In short, it's a guide to drinking wine seasonally that goes beyond just "reds in the winter, whites in the summer". It's broken down by month, with attention paid to holidays, and along the way advice is printed from top sommeliers around the country.

While the book suggests individual grapes, regions, and producers, as well as providing rough price brackets, it doesn't go into specific vintages and gives enough general advice to point someone in the right direction. So often wine journalism points to a very specific Thanksgiving wine, for instance, that's only available in a few states or perhaps was made in smaller quantities than the readership base. I can honestly see this book surviving for a decade or more, when wine books have a general tendency to go out of date faster than a carton of milk sitting on a radiator. It can be interesting and sometimes amusing to read old wine books. Go back far enough and you'll see things like, "It is believed by some that California may one day have a wine industry that's comparable to the quality of Bulgaria, but such claims are as preposterous as the concept of the horseless carriage and women voting."

It's a great gift for the newbie wine fan in your life, but could also be useful for wine retailers and marketers to approach the beverage with a more seasonal attitude. Also, if you've got a kid, or a cousin, or a younger member of the family that's about to turn 21 and you've been slipping that person a few sips of wine at dinner, give him or her this book. Wine education in this country is basically illegal before the age at which you normally finish your formal education; if we truly want a nation of wine lovers, we've got to catch them early, and this book could be a step in the right direction.

Colman was kind enough to answer the five questions in a recent e-mail interview:

#1: What's your most difficult cork removal story?

"Hmm, a screwcap? Oh, no, wait, those are easy. Probably some crumbly old cork that disintegrated in the bottle. I should really get an Ah-So for all my crumbly cork needs."

#2: When visiting a winery for the first time, do you prefer to go incognito or have it scheduled ahead of time?

"It varies. I have dropped in on lots of wineries on a lark. I've also been to wineries where I have arranged a visit in advance sometimes as a member of the media. But either as media or not, arranging a visit in advance usually means a more extensive tour (possibly with a decision-maker at the winery) and can include some rare tastings of small production wines or older vintages. Each approach has something going for it but I do find that planning ahead is more rewarding. In my book, I suggest that when visiting a wine region, people anchor their day with a prearranged visit in the morning and/or afternoon and sprinkle in some spontaneous stops along the way too."

#3: What's the most polite way to begin steering a novice wine drinker away from White Zinfandel?

"There are many interesting wines that are slightly sweet that offer, in my view, a lot more reward than white zinfandel. Some Riesling and Moscato d'Asti come to mind. But if someone likes white zin, then let them go for it!"

#4: What's your favorite obscure, underappreciated grape?

"Gamay. While it may not qualify as obscure, it certainly is underappreciated. Many (most?) renditions of the grape can be awful, but the best, notably from the crus of Beaujolais, are excellent, offering lovely fruit and acidity and a spectacular pairing with many foods."

#5: At night, with the shades drawn and no one looking, do you ever enjoy the secret pleasure of drinking wine out of a coffee mug and not writing down any notes about it?

"Well, not out of a coffee cup (eegad!). Having good stemware really enhances the wine experience so I do highly recommend investing in some (there are several good brands). But yes, scribbling notes can sometimes get distracting from the task at hand, enjoying a good glass of wine."

Note: I'll admit to using the coffee cup occasionally, but only with leftover wine that's been sitting in the fridge.

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The cigar pictured is an H. Upmann 1844 Monarch Tubo, 7" x 46. Indonesian wrapper, Dominican binder, Dominican and Brazilian filler. Mild and relaxing, touches of cherry and oak. It's a great introductory cigar, as it's not overpowering and the tube makes it easy to carry around or hand out as a gift without damaging or drying out the cigar. Enjoyed with a little snifter of Macallan Scotch.


Wine Club Guy said...

Good stuff, I'm always impressed when I see that he's teaching a class about wine at NYU. Maybe there is hope for all of us bloggers after all!

Michelle said...

Thanks for posting about this blogger and the book. I'm ordering it today.

Benito said...


I always wonder what the public perception of wine bloggers is. There's the cross between the basement-dwelling, pajama-wearing blogger stereotype and the elitist, epicurean wine lover stereotype.


I think you'll enjoy it--let me know what you think!


The Wine Commonsewer (TWC) said...

TWC sometimes enjoys wine out of a short tumbler, Southern Italian style. But, methinks, that there is something to the aura of decent stemware. It's like drinking a martini out of a paper cup, presentation adds something to the experience that a coffee cup simply cannot duplicate. Besides, all my coffee cups have leeched the slight taste of Colombian into the pores and hairline cracks so you end up with a slight 'coffee' taste on the nose. :-)

Erica said...

Cute interview with Dr. Vino. Though it's my belief that friends don't let friends drink white zin. ;)

Benito said...


I always try to ask questions that haven't been asked a dozen times before. As for the white zinfandel thing, I've always been a fan of the method of putting a few drops of red food coloring into a bottle of Riesling, and then later you drop the bomb. A sweet Riesling is a small step, but a step in the right direction.